On January 9, 2016, a carefully crafted operation to send a confidential informant to buy heroin from a suspected dealer proved successful. After their buyer made a purchase, Dillingham Police obtained a warrant to search the Wallona home on Nerka Loop, where then-37-year-old Joshua Gerrit Rivera had set up shop several weeks prior.
In the upstairs bedroom to the left, Rivera, from Anchorage, had been serving his steady stream of customers from a couple of large chunks of black tar heroin. Police seized his stash, 12.5 grams, and a lot of cash.
“We seized $18,981, but it’s actually over $19,000. We didn’t count the change, which was in quarters, dimes, and nickels, and probably came from some child’s piggy bank,” DPD chief Dan Pasquariello said at the time.
The marked bills used by police to make the earlier buy from Rivera were included in his bag of $1000 bundles of money, too.
On Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2017, Rivera pleaded guilty to a reduced charge and was sentenced to a flat six-year jail sentence. In return for the plea, assistant district attorney Dan Doty agreed to drop one of the two felony drug charges and reduced the other to attempted second degree misconduct involving a controlled substance.
Doty said he did so in close consultation with police and the Department of Corrections.
“Everyone was in agreement that this is actually probably a more fair sentence for Mr. Rivera’s conduct than the 13 to 20 years that he was looking at based on his felony history,” Doty said.
This became the fifth felony conviction on his record, which had pushed the presumptive sentence ranges higher.
“He doesn’t have a particularly violent history. Most of his priors are related to the use and sale of controlled substances, and bad decision making,” Doty said.
Whitney Power, Rivera’s court-appointed attorney, said the facts of the case presented a difficult defense and found the agreement fair. She also laid blame for her client’s actions on his drug addiction.
“I think that it’s Mr. Rivera’s addiction issues, quite frankly, more than his desire to engage in distribution that have caused him to come before the court previously, and again now,” Power said.
Most defendants choose to say little or nothing when offered the chance at their sentencings. Rivera uncorked for a full eight minutes, all related to his complaint with the criminal justice system’s failure to help him recover from his addiction.
“I’ve done a lot of jail time before because of this. I’m just letting you know that jail doesn’t help anybody,” Rivera said. “I can go back to jail right now and get any drug I want, in a second. And I can use it any way I want. I can shoot it, I can smoke it, I can do whatever. You don’t get help there, you don’t get better in jail.”
Rivera argued that prisoners like him would benefit from going to a residential treatment facility to kick the habit and build a network of positive support before serving one’s sentence, where he claims there is constant pressure by other inmates to keep using.
“The day I get out in six years, I’m going to be the same person … If anything I’m going to be worse,” Rivera said. “I know nothing can’t change that, I have to pay for what I do … but nothing good comes from jail. Nothing good comes from jail,” he told the court.
Judge Gregory Miller presided, and was somewhat sympathetic to Rivera’s long rant, but told the now 38-year-old the buck ultimately stops with him.
“You might not have the control over your life that you want and we want you to have, but it is ultimately your decision when you quit and move forward,” Judge Miller said. “You’ve got an awful lot of strikes against you, I get it, but you’ll be back for longer sentences if you don’t make that turn in the road. And that really is your choice.”